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Union Square Pranksters Encourage People to 'Say Something Nice'

By Mary Johnson | August 22, 2011 7:59pm

UNION SQUARE — Two men wearing official-looking orange vests rolled a wooden lectern out into Union Square on a recent Sunday afternoon, topped with a megaphone and sign bearing three instructional words: “Say something nice.”

Over the course of about an hour or two, dozens of people obeyed, leaning into the megaphone and offering a host of happy thoughts to the crowd milling around Union Square.

“To infinity and beyond!” yelled one young child as his mother lifted him up to the megaphone.

“I love everybody that is out here," one man shouted. "I love you all. Yes!”

A woman shouted to a passerby with a parasol: “Hey, you with the umbrella, the blue umbrella. I really like it. It’s pretty.”

The umbrella holder offered a dainty bow in gratitude for the unsolicited compliment.

The impromptu love fest in Union Square was the work of Improv Everywhere, a "prank collective" created by Charlie Todd in 2001, according to the group's website.

Todd has enlisted the help of tens of thousands of so-called “agents” to put on roughly 100 pranks since he founded the group. Perhaps one of the group's best-known stunts is the annual "No Pants Subway Ride." Todd took that prank up a notch last year by enlisting multiple agents to ride the subway in flesh-colored underwear that gave the illusion of total waist-down nudity.

He laid claim to the Union Square prank on the group's website Monday. It was Improv Everywhere's second collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum’s stillspotting nyc exhibition.

“It was exciting to stage a mission that we had so little control over,” Todd wrote in the blog post. “Unlike our more performance-based projects, the results of this one were entirely in the hands of random people who happened upon the lectern.”

The podium was moved throughout the day to points around Union Square, and finally ended up in the public plaza in front of the Flatiron building.

The website doesn’t provide the date or time when the prank occurred, though Time Magazine reported it was Aug. 7. 

Todd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to his blog post, people began to notice the lectern right away. Most shouted niceties like “I love you,” “I love New York,” and “Have a great day” into the megaphone.

A few, however, failed to follow directions.

“[One] guy called out his friend (standing embarrassed next to him) for backing out on moving into his apartment," Todd wrote. "One woman used the megaphone as a way to promote an event she was working on. Someone else thought the megaphone was a good opportunity to give a lengthy monologue about Christianity.”

But, he added, most everyone embraced the opportunity and simply said something nice.